The 8th Senate clocks two years of its inauguration. Within this period, there has been a paradigm shift in legislative procedures, exemplifying a robust legislations, oversight functions and private participations in tandem with the Change mantra of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Testimonies of inclusiveness in parliamentary functions (have been witnessed) characterised by transparency, healthy debate on issues on the floor of the Senate, hardworking and confident among members of the Upper Chamber.
Despite the turbulence that embedded the initial composition of its leadership, the National Assembly leadership vehemently shelved the disparities and hereafter dwelling in unity of purpose and attainable legislative agenda.
This Saraki’s 8th Senate will forever be remembered for its frank disposition on national issues. The passion to improve the living standard of the common man and the mind set that it will not be business as usual have earned the members the laudable accolade.
Overviewing its achievements in just two years, the present National Assembly and especially the Senate have lived up to the expectations of Nigerians in a clear term.
One will applaud the Senate for the closer working relationship with the executive arm of government. The huge support both arms are enjoying have paved way for the stability and smooth running of the present administration.
So far, the Presidency has placed 195 requests in forms of confirmation of executive appointments, approval on loans and other executive functions before the Senate in which 184 have been ratified, leaving 11 awaiting confirmation.
Considering the composition of the 8th Senate, the ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC), has the larger number of Senators, followed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), primarily the margin were higher with the APC’s seven members advantage.
What this figure implies was that it takes an experienced and erudite leadership to pilot the affairs in such political division. Here for the first time in the Upper Chamber, we have political parties with larger number of members, different political manifestos, concepts and interests to mention just a few.
But the leadership of the Senate weighed these partitions and surmounted the challenges with focus and passion not for the parties but for the masses.
Also at infancy, the Senate leadership identified the effect of any face-off with the leadership of the APC, sought a common ground with the party in order to work out modalities in achieving its objectives and to put Nigeria right back on track.
It was a tough battles that requires political solutions which were sorted and attained. Now we have a Senate, devoid of rancour, disparity and disharmony. And ever since, the envisaged ‘banana peels” syndrome by some political analysts and critics found no root in the Senate leadership’s loam.
So far, so good, about 479 Bills were laid over the past two years, the first Bill of the present Senate was the National Railway Corporation Act 1955 N129 LFN 2004 (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill 2015 (SB.01) sponsored by Senator Andy Uba, Anambra Central, which was laid for First reading on 23 June, 2015 and was passed on July 21, 2016.
Between June to December 2015, 133 Bills scaled the first reading in the floor of the Senate. By January to December 2016, another 219 Bills scaled first reading and from January 2017 till date, 51 Bills passed first reading as well.
In June and December 2015, 14 Bills through to second reading while 116 Bills completed second reading in 2016. 46 for second reading from January 2017 till date. 20 Bills were placed on Alteration Rules and 92 Bills got Committal assigned to relevant Committees.
In all, 91 Bills were fully passed, four were withdrawn, three were negatived, while Lobbying Disclosure Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 (SB; 99) was merged with Lobbying (Regulations) Bill 2016 (SB 258). The Federal Capital Territory Statutory Appropriation Act (Amendment) Bill 2016 (SB; 225) was also adopted during this period of legislative proceedings.
Since inception of this democracy in May, 1999, the then 5th Senate passed 65 bills, 6th Senate 23, 7th Senate 28 while the 8th Senate distinguishing itself with the passage of 91 bills, making it the highest in numbers of Bills passed.
For the first time in the history of the Nigerian Senate, public private participations took a centre stage when 2016, 2017 Appropriation Bills were presented by the Presidency.
The initiative of National Assembly Joint Public Hearing on the Budget, were constituted. Three days public hearing were organised to afford public and private sector participation, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Labour organizations converged and contributed in the Budgeting processes.
Having observed with keen interest the challenges associated with ease of doing business in Nigeria and with determination to find lasting solution to the lingering impediments militating with investment across the country, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki instituted the National Assembly Business Environment Round-table (NASSBER), an initiative through which legislations and roadmap to revamp national economy could be attained.
The birth of NASSBER in March 2016, brought together, experts, international development partners and stakeholders in the nation’s economy, to brainstorm synergistically between the legislative arm of government, executive arm and private sector at ensuring that the business environment was competitive enough to guarantee profits and attracts both foreign and local investors.
While addressing crops of professionals and stakeholders from Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), Department for International Development (DFID), ENABLE project, and the Nigerian Bar Association – Section on Business Law (NBA, SBL), during a year anniversary and unveiling of the annual reports of NASSBER in National Assembly recently, the Senate President assured Nigerians and other partners of the Senate readiness to bridge the gap between various players in the nation’s economy and build confident, trust and ease of doing business in Nigeria.
He said; “For us in the 8th National Assembly, law-making is not about the number of bills, it is more about impact and we will continue to focus on quality and impact on our people over any other considerations”.
In his words; “This is what makes the 8th National Assembly unique as we are determined to only make laws that will have positive impact on our people. We are in partnership with the private sector, through the NASSBER, initiated a research study to review the legislative instruments impeding doing business in Nigeria and received a report detailing the necessary legislative action required to begin the process of changing the unsupportive legal structures, weak institutional base and obsolete regulatory frameworks in the nation’s business environment.
“We want to see that these bills can actually help us create jobs, mobilize private sector investment and promote made in Nigeria goods.”
Also, parts of priorities of the 8th Senate is the Amendment to the Procurement Act which promotes ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods. The Senate under the leadership of Dr. Saraki took the bull by its horn when riot Act were read to public institutions to henceforth patronise Made in Nigeria as a first option in order to encourage and boost the diversification drive of the Federal government.
The Senate President, while addressing manufacturers and public sector in one of the fora to create awareness and relate the decision of the National Assembly, urged local contractors, manufactures, not to hesitate to lodge complain about any government institution who contravene the Procurement Act.
The Senate unambiguously waded into the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN), policies especially the forex, investigated the grey areas in implementation of TSA. This intervention by the 8th Senate saved the nation close to N20 billion which would have been fraudulently siphoned.
We will recalled the visit of the Senate President and some delegation of the Senate to the North East in the year 2015 and 2016 to ascertain the humanitarian crisis and alleged misappropriation of funds allocated to the Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs). The visit yielded (unprecedented) results that indicted the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal for misappropriating funds to the tune of N200million, the Senate inaugurated an 8-man Ad-Hoc Committee, headed by Senator Shehu Sani, Kaduna South, investigations were carried out on the matter.
The Committee recommended for the immediate suspension and probing of the SSG. The indictment eventually led to his suspension by the Presidency.
To this end, measures were put in place to contain incessant abuse and humiliation of the IDPs, by those depriving them of the allotted relief materials for their upkeep.
The North East Development Commission Act is another landmark of the National Assembly, especially the 8th Senate. An Act through which the Commission will be empowered to carter for the rehabilitation and relocation with reconstruction of the Zone.
More of the recommendations are allocation of N10billion to the IDPs in the North East in recognition of the dire situation and the urgent need to salvage the Zone from extinction by dastard act of the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists.
As parts of its efforts to complement Mr. President’s fight corruption, the 8th Senate in a motion moved by Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah, cited section 21 (1-3) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 which stipulates that government corporations and Agencies and also government-owned companies listed on the Schedule to this Act to not less than six months from commencement of this Act and for every three financial years, thereafter and not later than the end of the second quarter of every year, prepare and submit their Schedule estimates of revenue and expenditure for the next three financial year to the Minister.
The Senate frowned at the abuse of the privilege and ordered these Agencies to submit their budgets to committee Chairmen in two weeks.
The Senate position was made clear and in setting the record straight on Constitutional provision on how these Agencies ought to be run.
The 8th Senate made clear their promise to pass the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB), into law. A bill that would have been easier to pass as an executive bill. Considering the unity of purpose by Senators, and its focussed leadership, the passage of the PIGB showed Nigerians the competencies of the lawmakers in the 8th National Assembly.”
In one of his testimonies, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, pointed out that the 8th Senate has scored many firsts since its inception. The passage of critical economic reform Bills have repositioned the country to the path of growth.
According to him; “We are a focused Senate. We are also a people-oriented Senate. We are a Senate of many firsts, if you look at the passage of the National Railway Corporation Act, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Act, National Poverty Eradication Commission Bill, Food Security Bill 2015, Credit Bureau Reporting Bill, National Inland Waterway Act Cap, Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Act, Warehouse Receipts Act (Amendment) Bill, Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, the opening of the National Assembly Budget, you will see that we take governance very seriously.” Saraki assured.
From every sense of belonging, the multi-parliamentary relationship of the 8th Senate with other parliaments of the world cannot be over-emphasised in the course of this two years. It has fashioned a vibrant platform for our legislators to acquire more knowledge, share ideas and an opportunity to imbibe the best global practise. The Senate under the leadership of Saraki paid various visits to some developed democracy and their parliament.
These visits afforded Nigerian Senate the opportunity to observe conducts of legislative proceedings and practise across the world. A visit to the German Parliament, the Bundestag in March 2017, to promote improved economic relations between Nigeria and Germany and for the purposes of peer review.
The continued participation in the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), the 135th IPU Assembly which was held in October 2016 where Dr. Saraki who is a member of the Governing Board addressed parliamentarians from all over the member States on Women emancipation and their involvement in leadership positions is another milestone achievement of this Senate.
The Senate delegation to Paris, France on a two days conferences of Parliaments from across the world on how to save the environment and their participation in both the Globe COP 21 Legislators Summit which was held inside French parliament building with eminent parliamentarians like Graham Stuart of the Britain, Jean-Paul Chanteguet, President of the Committee on Sustainable Development, French Ministers for Ecology, Laurent Fabius, Foreign Affairs, Vice President of the Brazilian, Senator Jorge Viana and Senator Ed Markey, Chairman of the United State of America Climate Change among others.
Our 8th Senate also continues to sustaining participation in the ECOWAS Parliament within the West African region. All these are signs of revered commitment and healthy competence of our present legislators.
Over the span of two years, 8th Senate has recorded an enduring achievement in the history of law making process in Nigeria. Although, the effects of these Bills and actions are not immediately felt. Experts are of the views that positive signals are sent about Nigeria’s new direction of governance.
The huge collaboration between the National Assembly, the Executive, private sectors and international development partners are indications that a stronger foundation for sustainable development is been laid.
There is no doubt a systematic approach to reforms, re-enact and amendment of obsolete laws are process of retracing the path of socio-political and economy growth. Kudos, the 8th Senate and National Assembly in general as we step into another eventful 12 months of legislative buoyancy.
(Soji Ikotun is a Senior Legislative Aide (Media & Publicity), Office of the President of the Senate).